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Old 08-26-2003, 10:05 AM   #1
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Putting pop culture behind the pulpit

Saw this on @U2 this morning and I was intrigued. I'd like to visit her church someday... I like the way she thinks


Putting pop culture behind the pulpit

A Swedesboro priest tries to keep her parishioners connected.

Philadelphia Inquirer, August 25, 2003

Adam Fifield


When the Rev. Raewynne Whiteley first heard the U2 song "Beautiful Day," it didn't just move her to dance or sing. It inspired her to write a sermon.

The vicar of Trinity Episcopal "Old Swedes" Church in Swedesboro has also preached about The Simpsons, The X-Files and Frank Sinatra.

"Part of my job preaching is to help people make connections between their daily lives and faith," Whiteley said with an Australian brogue.

The 37-year-old Episcopal priest from Melbourne with a doctorate in homiletics from Princeton University finished her first year at the rural Gloucester County parish last month. Parishioners say Whiteley, who can often be seen around town wearing shorts and sandals with her clerical shirt, has endeared herself to the 140-member congregation and attracted new members with her vigor, unorthodox sermons, and down-to-earth manner.

"She connects the Bible with today's doings," said Alma Howell, 74, who has been a church member for 56 years. "I've been to other churches, and they stick strictly to the Bible, and the Bible is very hard to understand for some people."

Several parishioners said Whiteley's sermons made them think.

"I've never heard a boring sermon from her," said Bob Fred, 67, a retired bookkeeper for Sunoco. "When I was in the Methodist Church, I would always look at my watch and say, 'When is this guy going to be done?' "

With straight, shoulder-length hair and glasses, Whiteley has a modest, teacherly bearing, though she delivers her sermons with brio. She said her unusual outlook on preaching had evolved, in part, as a reaction to the scarcity of women's voices from the pulpit.

"I rarely heard women preach," she said, "and that pushed me to develop my own style."

She was also influenced by a parish priest in Melbourne, who, she recalled, advised in a church preaching class that "preaching is where God and the world intersect."

Whiteley and another Episcopal priest are coeditors of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, a collection of sermons that draw on the music of U2. Published by Cowley Publications, an Episcopal publisher, the book is scheduled to be released this fall. Whiteley is still waiting for U2's permission to use their lyrics.

The book, which has created a buzz on the Internet with a blog, or online journal, kept by Whiteley's coeditor, the Rev. Beth Maynard of Fairhaven, Mass., includes 25 sermons by clergy from a range of denominations, including Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and the United Church of Christ. All royalties will go to The AIDS Support Organization (TASO), an AIDS charity in Uganda.

"The book is not that U2 said this or that but what issues they raise and how those issues connect theologically," Whiteley said.

Two of Whiteley's sermons appear in the book, including one inspired by lyrics from "Beautiful Day."

Those lyrics - and see the bird with the leaf in her mouth / after the flood all the colors came out - evoked for Whiteley an image of Noah and moved her to write about issues of destruction and hope.

Also included in the book is an essay by Whiteley titled "Woo Me, Sister; Move Me, Brother! What Does Pop Culture Have To Do With Preaching?" In the essay, she exhorts fellow clergy to familiarize themselves with the pop-culture universe.

"Listen prayerfully to the world around you," she wrote. "Saturate yourself in the articulations of our culture, whether in music, art, film, or TV. . . . Hunt out biblical allusions in the speeches of our politicians and military leaders. Read poetry, and look for the depths of the human experience. Turn on the radio or VH-1, and hear what is heard by thousands of people. Pay attention to where God might be active."

Whiteley, who holds five academic degrees, confessed, "I have to make a concerted effort not to sit down in front of the TV."

She even acknowledged that she had watched "some dreadful programming," such as NBC's Meet My Folks.

But the reality show gave her material for a wedding. In comparing it to the Song of Solomon, Whiteley said, "I was able to talk about what are our modes of love and what it means to love."

She stressed, "I don't put these things in artificially. . . . If when I'm preparing a sermon, something really sticks in my mind, I'm likely to talk about it."

During Lent this year, Whiteley gave participants in an evening discussion group a choice between a standard Bible study and an opportunity to examine the connection between U2's music and faith. The group of 10, mostly people in their 50s and 60s, voted for U2. Over bowls of soup, they listened to CDs of the popular Irish rock band, watched concert videos, and discussed the parallels between what they saw and heard with the Bible.

Several people were confused at first, said Edie Rohrman, 60, the church organist and an active volunteer. "Early on, people had a tough time, but then by the third session, it became easier."

Ed Carson, 68, a retired New Jersey Turnpike toll collector and a church member for 28 years, had never heard of the band. "When she first mentioned U2, I thought she was talking about a German submarine," he said.

Initially skeptical, he eventually became intrigued, Carson said.

"I found myself asking questions which I normally don't do," he said. "I'm not saying U2 is the incarnation of God Himself, but I thought it was interesting."

Two Sundays ago, Whiteley preached about this month's convention of the Episcopal Church USA, which drew national attention with the divisive election of the church's first openly gay bishop. The delegates "reaffirmed that everyone is welcome in our church, gay and straight alike," Whiteley told her congregation.

In an interview, she said that a few parishioners disagreed with the convention's decision, but that the issue had not stirred up much debate within the congregation.

"The core of our faith is Christ," Whiteley said, "not what people do in bed."

Whiteley is also unofficial chaplain for the Australian Consulate in New York. "They call me when they need a priest," she said.

She performed a service at the consulate after the 9/11 attacks and on the first anniversary of the attacks in 2002.

This fall, in her free time, Whiteley will teach a course at Princeton on preaching.

In describing her preaching style, Whiteley invoked theologian Karl Barth, who famously advised his students to write their sermons with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

Said Whiteley, "In essence, we're updating that image - a Bible in one hand and CD in the other."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2003.
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Old 09-04-2003, 07:13 PM   #2
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Interesting article, she does have some good points, however, when I read stuff like this:
Quote:
"Listen prayerfully to the world around you," she wrote. "Saturate yourself in the articulations of our culture, whether in music, art, film, or TV. . . . Hunt out biblical allusions in the speeches of our politicians and military leaders. Read poetry, and look for the depths of the human experience. Turn on the radio or VH-1, and hear what is heard by thousands of people. Pay attention to where God might be active."
and

Quote:
"The core of our faith is Christ," Whiteley said, "not what people do in bed."
It makes me wonder if she isn't being a little too worldly in her ideals. "Saturate yourself"??? Christians are supposed to be the salt and light of the world, and should be "in the world, not of the world." We are actually to eschew those worldly influences that might cause us harm and separation from God, and to voice our beliefs boldly and in love, in order that we might bring others to faith in Christ.

Sure, Christ IS the core of faith through salvation by grace, but the Bible says that those who practice homosexuality - whether or not they are regular folks or clergy - will not enter Heaven. And actually, those who *are* clergy are expected to lead scrupulous lives, as they are looked at as leaders and role models, and if they lead their 'flocks' astray, they will have much more to answer to God about.
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Old 09-09-2003, 12:49 AM   #3
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Re: Putting pop culture behind the pulpit

Quote:
Originally posted by hippy

During Lent this year, Whiteley gave participants in an evening discussion group a choice between a standard Bible study and an opportunity to examine the connection between U2's music and faith. The group of 10, mostly people in their 50s and 60s, voted for U2. Over bowls of soup, they listened to CDs of the popular Irish rock band, watched concert videos, and discussed the parallels between what they saw and heard with the Bible.
Well, this is pretty cool. I think it's important to be able to apply what goes on in our world to what we can learn from our faith, otherwise you just shut yourself out and won't be able to reach out to anyone. I'd do a study on U2's music and how it relates to Christianity ... and I'm only 20. I can't imagine my parents wanting to do that, which is why I was surprised that these people in their 50s and 60s did.

Sometimes, though, I think that churches try too hard to get the message across to people by being "hip". I prefer my traditional church personally, and it's almost cringey when churches try to be too "with it" by completely missing the point. But, good on them who try it, if it makes a difference than that's great!
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